How To Deal With A Spooky Horse While Riding
Riding a horse that's prone to spooking can be a bit like sailing through stormy seas. Whether it is a young green horse that you are training or a new horse that you are restarting in the saddle after a rescue, the challenge of riding a spooky horse is a dangerous mission. It's an experience that requires a steady hand, a calm manner, ice-cold nerves, and a good deal of know-how. In this blog post, we'll delve into the reasons why horses spook, how to handle a spooky horse while riding, and share extra tips for confidently riding a spooky horse on a trail so that you can have a great trail ride this fall!
1. Why Do Horses Spook?
Horses are naturally vigilant animals and they have heightened senses. They've evolved to detect even the slightest signs of danger as a survival instinct. Several factors can trigger a horse's spooking behavior:
- Sensory Overload: Horses rely on their keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell. Anything out of the ordinary, such as a sudden movement, a loud noise, or an unfamiliar scent, can trigger a spook.
- Fear of the Unknown: Horses can be sensitive to new environments, objects, or situations. The fear of the unknown can make them nervous and prone to spooking.
- Past Traumas: Horses can carry emotional scars from previous traumatic experiences, leading them to react strongly to perceived threats. This is especially common in horses that have been abused in the past.
2. How to Handle a Spooky Horse While Riding?
Riding a spooky horse requires a combination of skill, patience, and empathy. Here are some essential tips:
- Remain Calm: Your horse looks to you for guidance. If you react with fear or frustration, it can escalate their anxiety. Stay calm and composed, using a soothing voice to reassure your horse.
Focused Riding: Keep your attention forward and maintain a relaxed but confident posture. Avoid excessive rein contact or leg pressure, which can increase tension. If your horse starts bucking, rearing or bolting, try to stay steady and don't pull the reins. Avoid any action that might worsen the situation while you are in the saddle.
- Redirect Attention: Encourage your horse to focus on you by incorporating frequent transitions, circles, or lateral work during your ride. Engaging their mind can help reduce anxiety.
- Desensitization: Gradually expose your horse to the stimuli that trigger their spooking in a controlled environment. Use systematic desensitization techniques to help them become more comfortable with these triggers over time.
3. Tips for Riding a Spooky Horse on a Trail
Riding a spooky horse on a trail can be especially challenging, but it's also incredibly rewarding when done right. A trail ride outside the safety of your barn and arena will help your horse get braver and overcome some of the spooky situations by building courage with your support. Follow these trail-specific tips:
- Scout Ahead: If possible, walk the trail on foot before riding it with your horse. This allows you to identify potential spooky spots and prepare your horse accordingly.
Lead by Example: Ride with a confident and experienced horse if possible. A calm companion can help reassure your spooky horse.
- Gradual Exposure: Introduce your horse to the trail slowly. Start with short rides and gradually increase the distance as they become more comfortable.
- Stay Patient: When your horse spooks on the trail, stop and allow them to assess the situation. Encourage them to move forward once they've calmed down.
- Emergency Dismount: In extreme cases where safety is compromised, be prepared to dismount and lead your horse past the spooky object or situation. You can check our FALLING SAFETY TIPS for extra tips on how to have a safe emergency dismount.
Riding a spooky horse can be challenging, but it's also an opportunity to build trust and enhance your horsemanship skills. By understanding the reasons behind spooking, using effective riding techniques, and being patient, you can guide your horse through the trickiest of trails. Happy trails and happy riding!